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Regional News

'Opioid Issues Are A Serious Problem' As Overdose Deaths Climb

Opioids.
Hailey R. Staker
/
U.S. Air Force
Opioids.

Massachusetts public health officials announced this week opioid overdose deaths climbed by 5% in the state last year.

Social isolation and difficulty accessing treatment during the pandemic are cited as some of the reasons for the spike. Holyoke had a notable increase in deaths, while Northampton and Westfield saw significant decreases.

The increase in Massachusetts was among the smallest in the country.

Panelist Elizabeth Román said she does not find the news alarming.

"I think it's because I live in Springfield, where overdose and opioid issues are a serious problem," she said. "I just talked to the New North Citizens Council executive director, who got some state funding. They got about $2.3 million for the next five years to target specifically Black and Latino men being released from incarceration, and coming back into society."

Román praised the work of the local sheriff's department on problems related to opioids.

"It's been stable over the past couple of years," she said. "And I don't know if that's good or bad. And we haven't gotten really high up, but we also haven't reduced it as much as we we wish we had."

Panelist Mike Dobbs said this is a case where public health attention has been focused exclusively on COVID-19.

"I'm not saying that they ignored a problem like opioid overdoses," he said. "But certainly, I think the public's attention, elected officials' attention, was squarely aimed at the pandemic. So I think that the thing that we really need to do is to get back to talking about other public health issues that affected us before the pandemic, and are certainly still around now, as the pandemic hopefully winds down."

Staying with recent health data, Hampden County continues to lag behind the rest of the state for people fully vaccinated against COVID-19, at 31%. In Springfield, the vaccination rates for Black and Latino residents are far behind that of white residents.

There was some good news this week in Hampden County: Both Springfield and Chicopee moved out of the category of communities at "high risk" for COVID-19.

One Massachusetts lawmaker is looking to end the state's religious exemption for childhood vaccine requirements in schools. Connecticut recently passed a similar law, which is being challenged in court, and Maine also has something similar on the books. State Rep. Andy Vargas said the current law puts kids and families at risk. (This does not include the COVID-19 vaccine.)

Also this week, former Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse made good on his promise to donate thousands of dollars left in his congressional campaign account to charities. He's now town manager of Provincetown. Morse donated most of the money to Cape-based organizations — and none to any in Holyoke. One gift did go to a dog park in South Hadley. Dobbs called this an "insult" to Holyoke.

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